Something that has intrigued me is the concept of the afterlife. My senior year of high school, I did a project in my Jewish Studies class about the comparative views of the afterlife from different religions. While I would not like to relive the experience of working with my group partners who hated one another, I thought it would be interesting to go back and take a look at the research we did and write about it. So for this blog post, I will compare the afterlife beliefs of Hinduism and Islam.
Hinduism believes that time is cyclical. This means they believe people do not live and die just once but are reborn a number of times before reaching their final state. This is called reincarnation, which most people are quite familiar with when they think about the Hindu afterlife. The process of being born, growing, dying and being reborn again for Hindus is called “samsara.” The aim of every Hindu is freedom from this cycle in order to be in the presence of God, or become one with God (moksha). That can mean an eternal resting place for the individual personality in the arms of a loving, personal God, but it usually means the dissolving of all personality into the unimaginable abyss. In order to get freedom from samsara Hindus believe they must collect good karma.
Now how does one reach this final state? Surprisingly the answer is simple: yoga. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than regular yoga; there are four specific kinds.
a) Jnana yoga, the way of knowledge, employs philosophy and the mind to comprehend the unreal nature of the universe.
b) Bhakti yoga, the way of devotion or love, reaches salvation through ecstatic worship of a divine being.
c) Karma yoga, the way of action, strives toward salvation by performing works without regard for personal gain.
d) Raja yoga, “the royal road,” makes use of meditative yoga techniques.
Islam’s point of view is quite different. Islam believes in the existence of Heaven and Hell, and depending on how person lived their life, they end up where they should rightly belong. Once a person dies, Allah’s angel (the Angel of Death) removes their soul. If the person was evil, Allah’s angel comes in rage and yanks the soul out of the body. These are the people who will burn in a violent fire for eternity. However, if the person was righteous the angel comes in a peaceful manner. The Qu’ran states: “I swear by the angels who violently pull out the souls of the wicked, and by those who gently draw out the souls of the blessed.” (Surah Naziat, ayats 1-2).
Islam also believes that a Day of Judgment is upon us. The central doctrine of the Qur’an states that on the Last Day the world will be destroyed and Allah will raise all people and jinn from the dead will be judged. A jinn is a supernatural creature that occupies a parallel world to that of mankind. Until the Day of Judgment the souls wait in their grave. The righteous begin to feel the taste of their destiny to come and be in peace until the Day of Judgment. Those bound to hell will suffer in their grave. The level of comfort in their grave depends on their belief in God as well as their deeds in life.
Something that we have learned, and has been repeated many times, is that Islam teaches that the purpose of Man’s creation is to be kind to other humans and to worship Allah. Life on Earth is just a test to determine each person’s ultimate reward or punishment in the afterlife. The rewards a righteous person would gain in the afterlife are in levels. Their reward in paradise would eclipse anything on earth: unlimited food of their choice, riches, and things that are sinful on earth, such as wine, are permitted in the afterlife. And the very highest level of paradise would be seeing Allah with one’s own eyes.
Obviously, these two religions are quite different on the surface, but I wouldn’t think that views on something like the afterlife would be so different that they practically contradict one another.